Too Much Work Can Pack On the Pounds

Do you have a schedule that requires you to work more than forty hours per week, leaving you exhausted at the end of every workday? If so, go weigh yourself. If the number on the scale is higher than you believe it should be, you can probably blame your busy schedule for contributing to your excess weight.

Work can add weight—that’s the conclusion of a new Finnish study involving 9,000 Helsinki city employees, ages 40 to 60. University of Helsinki researchers found that weight gain was especially likely for individuals who must balance demanding jobs with the hectic requirements of family. In the study, a fourth of the women, along with 19 percent of the men, reported that they had gained weight the previous year. Strongly associated with weight gain was work fatigue.

The study identified two basic risk factors that seem to lead to weight gain: (1) consistently working beyond the standard 40 hours per week, and (2) consistently experiencing feelings of work fatigue.

The first factor, particularly high among women, involved those participants who expressed dissatisfaction with how they were able to combine paid work with family life. The second factor involved participants who agreed with three or more of these statements:
  • My work is definitely too stressful.
  • I feel like I'm totally exhausted.
  • I feel totally worn out after a day at work.
  • I feel tired in the morning when I have to get up and go to work.
  • I worry about my work even when I'm off duty.
  • I have to work too hard.
Researchers concluded that both risk factors involve work fatigue or burnout—conditions that may tempt workers to soothe midday stress by turning to vending machine treats, scarfing down fast food, and skipping exercise because they lack both time and energy. So what can you do if extra hours on the job may be causing you to pack on the pounds? Only you can be the judge of what you can do to improve the situation, but here are some tips that may help:
  • Take a break from your television for a week—or even one day a week. You may be surprised to find yourself enjoying the quiet, picking up a book you've always meant to read, or talking to your kids. At the very least, you may find yourself going to bed earlier when you feel tired, instead of spacing out in front of the boob tube.
  • Look for areas of your life to simplify or consolidate. For example, can you set aside a day to run all (or even most) of your errands, saving time and gas? Can you teach your kids to plan ahead so that you’re not heading to the mall every other day?
  • Evaluate your work schedule and tasks. See which items require some overtime, and then try to plan one or two days to consciously work overtime to accomplish those tasks. You may still be working long hours, but you’ll have some control over your schedule, rather than being at someone else’s whims. You may even improve your efficiency.
  • Take a good hard look at your job. Is it a good fit for you? While we all have areas of dissatisfaction in our work, it’s generally not normal to be continually exhausted at the end of the day. When we’re well suited to our work, we should enjoy it much of the time. Assuming that you don’t have an untenable amount of work (and if you do, that may require a conversation with the boss), maybe it’s time to start looking for a new job.
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Member Comments

Good article. Report
I'm retired so no worries about too much work! Report
I tend to work a lot of OT and I have a long commute too. It is really hard to manage eating healthy meals, getting in exercise, getting enough sleep, along with the day to day household stuff that needs to be done, such as laundry. I really struggle to find balance and honestly, I have tried every means of organizing and rescheduling known to man. I also do not ever watch TV (unless it is on my iPod while I am sitting working on tedious boring spreadsheets) so I can't cut out TV. I really love my job and the company for whom I work so I don't want to change that. I just want a little more balance. Report
I wish I would have read this 8months ago, it has definitely become a new issue. I thought I would burn calories during the second evening job but something went of course. I began eating more high cal n fast food which became rewards for pushing thru the 60 plus n caring for my disabled partner. I gave up most exercise because I was too tired or sore or in pain to move. About 5 months in sleeping became difficult. Now I am just irritable and tired all the time at my main career job hat I hope people don't pick up on but I feel myself failing and losing worth. I think the option now is to cut way back or quit or find something that is not 20 hrs every weekend. Report
The article doesn't say whether it's about physical work or a desk job. How would digging ditches an extra two hours a day pack on the pounds? Report
I can relate to this especially as I have a bent supervisor who loves powertripping ! I only had one job years ago as a plant labourer that actually contradicted this premise as it was hard physical work. Report
I agree! Overtime or office work at home packs the pounds!
Overtime and the boss orders take out then leaves. Take the work home and you are so eager to put the day behind you, less attention is paid to preparing the healthy meal for dinner.
I finally got fed up at one job, asked the boss - do you like Kentucky Fried Chicken? he said sometimes, I said, good you stay! Report
I do agree that work stress does makes me pack on the weight take for example i was well on track with my weight loss programme until start of May when new targets for half year completion threw me off balance i practically stopped excerising even though i knew i would help me beat the stress and i started eating all the wrong things for comfort. Weighed myself this morning it's a miracle that i have gained only 2kg back but if i don't change 2kg would become 4 and then 6 and i would be right where i started from. Report
I definitely feel that working packs on the pounds. For one thing, I eat three meals a day on working days, while I only eat two meals when at home all day. At work I am always hungry and snack morning and afternoon, but at home I am not nearly as hungry. My job fits me, but I am mostly sitting down. I try to get up frequently, but that is just not built into the job.
When on vacation I usually lose weight! Unfortunately I don't have paid time off. So an extra day here and there plus a week here and there is about it. Report
I have my own business so sometimes find myself working excessively long hours to get things done. Whenever possible I counteract this by scheduling relaxing yoga and pilates sessions and doing a 20 minute meditation - always helps Report
I too could be the poster child. I do not fit a lot of the 'problems'. I love my job, I don;t watch TV and I don't have kids and I am 58 years old - hardly a good point in life at which to change jobs. But I do have a staff shortage and responsibilities and direct reports in two countries with time zone differences of 15 hours. It seems that something is always happening in our company - a new factory workshop, someone resigning and hiring to be done, an office to be built-out. I am the CFO and I have direct responsibility for a lot of these things. But what I do need to do is take time to plan my eating better than I have been the past few months. I need to plan for eating when 'on the road' and plan for eating when working late. It is just too easy to go across the street to a take-out and bring it back, eat at my desk and keep on working. I do work out with a trainer once a week, but have not been doing it on my own as regularly, due to 17-18 hour days. I am starting to cut that back a bit and get back into working out before I go to work. I have 40 lbs to lose and it is not going to happen unless I change something. 2 Years ago, I got down to 140 lbs, which is still 15 lbs too heavy for someone my height and age. I did it by getting up at 5 AM and working out before going to work and by strictly watching my diet - planning my eating ahead of time, eating on time and writing down what I did eat. I still get up at 5 AM, but now I just get ready and go to work earlier. I think I might be more productive at work if I actually did the work out first, so I am going to start that this week. So I will try to do the things that I know worked for me before and see if I can get the same results. Otherwise, I fear I may end up ill or, worse, dead like my Mom before me. Report
I am the poster girl for this article, single parent of a teenager that is involved in musical theatre 45 min from our home, work in fundraising for a non-profit that requires a minimum 55 hour week, more often 60 or 70 hour week, I sit on a board of directors for a non-profit that needs fundraising expertise and have a home to maintain...I have no idea how to streamline my commitments and often feel like I spend my day juggling flaming knives...and yes...I'm overweight. Have tried keeping a food diary, but no time to keep it up, try to make good choices but often have no time to make them and grab the fastest thing to eat, while doing other tasks...any ideas anyone in a similar situation has would be much appreciated...PS I'm writing this at work on a Sunday. Report
We all have a limited amount of time and energy (physical, mental and emotional). It's easy to see how overwork makes it extremely difficult to take care of our health!

Before my heart attack, I worked a lot of overtime. Now, I work 28 hrs per week, with 8 of those hours from home. I never did succeed in taking care of my health while working all those hours. You give some good suggestions. Still, it's very difficult to take care of our health when we work too many hours. Report
I can really relate to problems with work/life balance. But what causes the weight gain isn't working too long but how we respond to the stress the long hours of work cause. I am in the UK - but like the US we have a challenging economic climate that means changing your job isn't always an option. We may not have the choice to change jobs, but we DO have a choice about how we deal with job related stress . Report
I have always worked more than full-time... since I was a teen. This particular job I have now is extremely stressful, long hours, etc. However, if I make a conscious effort to leave on time, I enjoy my day so much more, like today after work I was able to cook a great healthy meal, clean up, play outside with my son, and still had time to do strength training while watching a great new motivational show. The perfect evening, really, and no nightime snacking! I feel that if I could consistently leave my work at work and on time it would help me to have more great, fulfilling and healthier days like this instead of my usual home late, annoyed at the kids, rushing, exhausted before falling asleep in front of the TV with toally inappropriate snacks... but I can do this, tomorrow is another day! Report


About The Author

Rebecca Pratt
Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.